The Condemned

Where people gather,
there are always gunshots.

Today, someone else
is publicly executed.

You should never sympathize;
Even if he’s dead, you must kill him again.

The proclamation is cut short.
“Bang bang,” the gun speaks.

Why is the silence of the crowd heavier today?

For the crime of stealing a sack of rice:
90 bullets.

And his extraordinary occupation?
A farmer.

— Jang Jin-Sung
(Trans. by S. N. Johnson-Roehr)

Jang Jin-sung (Jin-seong) was a state-appointed poet under Kim Jong-il in North Korea. In 2004, Jang defected to South Korea by way of China to escape arrest and probable execution for lending a forbidden book to a friend. He wrote this poem about a public execution he witnessed in his hometown.